Monday, September 15, 2014

Season of free Australian films in Barcelona

This week is the start of an Australian Film Season, hosted by Barcelona's RMIT in conjunction with ASBA (the Australia Spain Business Association.)

The season comprises 10 films. There will be one film each week, on Thursdays at 7.30pm, with the exception of 2 October.

The premiere will take place this Thursday 18 September at 7.30pm, and will be attended by the Australian Ambassador to Spain, Ms Jane Hardy. The screening will be followed by a cocktail reception.

The screenings will take place at RMIT in C/Minerva 2. This street runs off Diagonal and is very close to Passeig de Gracia.

Admission is free to all screenings.

The list of films and their dates appear below...

18/9 Priscilla Queen of the Desert 
25/9 Picnic at Hanging Rock 
9/10 The Year of Living Dangerously 
16/10 Lantana 
23/10 Rabbit Proof Fence 
30/10 Gallipoli 
6/11 The Lighthorsemen 
13/11 Wake in Fright 
20/11 Breaker Morant 
27/11 Animal Kingdom

Personally, I highly recommend Lantana. Though I haven't seen Rabbit Proof Fence or Wake in Fright, they are many other people's favourites.












Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, visits Jerusalem's Wailing Wall

The trip was made [last weekend] by a group made up of Spanish political parties, Izquierda Plural (with six Euro deputies) and Podemos (with five).

They visited Ramala after Israel had denied the delegation entry to Gaza two days earlier.

The delegation held meetings with Palestinian leaders, among them the Prime Minister of the United Nation Transitional Government, Rami Hamdala, and with the top Palestinian diplomat, Raid al Malki.

The group also met with Israeli pacifists and left-wing groups such as Rabbis for Democracy, and they visited the old city of Jerusalem.

More from original source here.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Legislating liberties" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

Photo: Javier at [sic]
While we were (hopefully) enjoying sun and slumber over the summer it was easy to miss some disturbing international developments (or should I instead call these events disturbing steps back towards some of the worst aspects of the previous century.)

In a ruling barely even mentioned by most mainstream media (and opposed by the Obama White House) the Supreme Court of the USA declared that "companies whose shares are held by a small number of shareholders can refuse to provide health care plans that include contraception coverage, if they have a religious objection." 

This decision is important largely because it logically means that corporations – not only individuals – have the right to religious freedom. It also creates situations where they can legally exercise this freedom at the expense of those who do not own business, ie. working people. 

Meanwhile the same USA has re-formed it´s diplomatic alliance with previously "evil" Iran, who are also working hard to undermine women´s rights.

There, the national leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is heading the charge to put a ban on vasectomies and other birth control surgeries. 

His reasoning is that the population of his country needs to be doubled so that "national identity" becomes stronger. 
Proposed laws have already been approved that would throw doctors who perform these kinds of operations into prison for five years.

Closer to our part of the world, it is apparent that intolerance against many minority groups (including Jews and Gypsies) is on the rise across Europe. 

The latest example of this trend is a recent European Court of Human Right's verdict that upheld a French law banning the wearing of the [Muslim] full-face veil in public.
 
The vague use of "security concerns" as the rationale for the ban makes it clear that the issue is still being used (particularly by right-wing politicians) as a distraction from political failings.
 
My understanding is that Muslim women are happy to show their face for an identity or passport check, provided this is done with another women only in a private area. This is a very simple request to accommodate as a matter of routine.

Personally, I just don’t accept that having a law against covering your face means that people will not do it when they are about to commit a crime, as those advocates of the new law argue.
 
Let’s say I’m going to rob a bank. (I may have to actually do this if I don't get a pay rise soon.) Do I decide to not cover my face to avoid my identity being recognized through the security cameras simply because there is a law against it? 

No, instead a robber will simply break two laws instead of just one because they believe they will not get caught anyway.

To my mind, there’s way too much public debate about clothing and not enough discussion of the other factors involved in religion and discrimination.

To me, the hijab/niqab/face covering debate is a trivialisation of the bigger issues. Surely, what someone wears is largely a personal choice, except where women are ‘forced to cover-up’ to varying degrees.

Some Muslim women are in fact much more interested in improving their everyday rights than they are about how much they cover or don’t cover of their heads and faces.

The veil gets media and public attention because it is such an easily visible thing in our fashion-conscious times, as opposed to the more dramatic health and quality of life threatening problems such female genital mutilation (which is also still practised by some non-Muslims, such as Coptic Christians in Egypt as well.)

Clearly, a law should exist to protect women who want to defy those who want to force them to dress against their will. 

Equally though, another law should exist allowing women to cover as much as they like, whether any of us thinks that hiding a face is a sad reflection of a culture or not.
 
The result of any banning of the veil is very likely to be that more Muslim women are kept at home by their controllers: extremist, fundamentalist men. 

This leads very rapidly to a situation where a law that is supposed to make Islamic women somehow more free actually has the opposite effect.

Sometimes I think that social progress is just a thing of the past.


[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, Sept. 2014.]

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Down syndrome, Dawkins and doubt


Even the greatest have intellectual blind spots.
 
I regard Richard Dawkins as having one of the most brilliant minds of our time but I think he was wrong to say what he did this week. He has given a kind of apology/clarification but I'm still unconvinced about his key point, which was...


"if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare."


I've spent time around teenagers with Down syndrome and they certainly did not strike me as being especially unhappy, and often seemed quite a bit more happy than many others their age.

I worked with some teenage students with the syndrome during my teacher training in the 1990's and have very fond memories of two kids in particular. Jason was a big, quiet guy who loved soccer and his brother. His favoured response to most questions was "Nuh. Nothin'..."
 
Mary was a lively and flirtatious girl who had a huge crush on Australian game-show host Larry Emdur. She always insisted that I sit next to her because she believed I looked like her idol.

Here is one woman's beautiful and moving account of the joys of having a brother with Down's syndrome.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Australian review of "Outlaws" by Cercas




<i>Outlaws</i>, by Javier Cercas.

In the Australian (mainstream) media this month was this review of Javier Cercas’ latest novel, Outlaws.


"Cercas captures Spain in transition from the tyranny of Franco to democracy, through an intense exploration of love and hate, loyalty and betrayal."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Abandoned in austerity Spain: no job, no benefits"


"Read the news and it’s all upbeat about Spain.

The Spanish economy grew 0.6 percent in the second quarter, the fastest rate since 2007, before the country slipped into recession. That’s the fourth consecutive quarter of growth.


And Spain’s unemployment rate has fallen to a two-year low – of 24.5% in the second quarter.

Of course at a quarter of the working population, unemployment remains very high, second highest in Europe in fact. And more than half of all young people (15-24 year olds) have no employment.

But the trend is positive, the Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy argues: austerity is working.

But other, recently issued figures show a different picture..."



Read more from source here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Catalans in Queensland










A detailed, fascinating look at the their 20th century history in the north-eastern state of Australia, via Cristina Poyatos Matas.

(Link also here.)

[Thanks to Ferran Fabrellas.]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Video: "Gaudí, Barcleona's phantom metro station"

[videos.lavanguardia.com]
This week the Metro of Barcelona celebrated it's 90th anniversary by allowing filming in one of the most unique stations - one that has never had a train stop in it.

Video here.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Intransit


InTransit is a site that has English translations of opinion pieces that have appeared in the Catalan-speaking press or Spanish press.

It's worth reading or even subscribing to their e-newsletter.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Video: "A Miniature Look at the Catalan Province of Girona"

From the excellent Homage to BCN a great 3 minute visual treat by freelance filmaker Pau García Laita focusing on different locations around the area of Girona - sometimes unjustly neglected by tourists who only spend time in the capital.

Friday, July 4, 2014

"I don't think,...therefore I am" - My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine


















"Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars."

This is "probably a true statement" according to one in four people across the entire planet, a recent global survey has found.

It would be easy to dismiss these kinds of stereotyped opinions as the ill-informed ignorance of a small minority, except that nearby events of the last few months show that discrimination and prejudice of many kinds are seemingly much deeper and more widespread than we might like to think.

At a Brussels Jewish museum in May a lone gunman shot dead three people, including two Israeli citizens on holiday. Only hours later, two Jews were attacked and beaten in Paris as they left a suburban synagogue.

In fact, following from another public slaying of three Jewish children and a Rabbi in Paris in 2012, more than 1,400 Jews left France to live in Israel in the first three months of this year, now making it probable that 2014 will see the biggest exodus of French Jews to Israel since that country was established in 1948.

The results from France's municipal elections in May seem to prove that getting out of the "land of liberty, fraternity and equality" is a prudent decision for those minorities without that promised equality.

The far right National Front party there has just received it's best ever voter support in municipal elections and actually won the European Parliament elections with 25% of the vote.
Further East the situation is also disturbing.

In the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Jews leaving their local synagogue were handed leaflets from the new pro-Russian military that ordered them to pay a fee and register their property. They were threatened that failure to comply would lead to their assets being confiscated or even deportation.

One resident of the city said that she had never experienced anti-Semitism until she saw the leaflet but it reminded her of when the Nazis occupied the area in 1941. In that part of the world and across wider Europe we know that there has been a long and terrible history of violent "pogroms" against Jewish people.

But it is not just religious bigotry that is increasingly finding it's way into the light.

If you have a dislike of homosexuality then you can be comforted by having entire national governments that share your intolerance. Apart from Russia's new anti-gay "propaganda" laws, in the continent south from here homosexuality has become a criminal offence in Burundi, South Sudan, Uganda and Nigeria.

Even Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott has come up with more than 200 million dollars in new funds in a bid to push his anti-gay attitudes into schools through so-called "emotional and spiritual support" chaplains.

Meanwhile, another survey has discovered that a staggering 43% of Americans would not vote for any presidential candidate who declared them self to be an atheist.

Just as surprising was that 40% would also not cast their vote in favour of a president of who happened to be a Muslim.

Equally, the possibility of a lesbian or gay president of the "free world" would almost certainly be blocked by the 30% of Americans who openly admitted that they would not support their commander in chief being of that sexual orientation.

But where do these attitudes come from?

I think that purely and simply they can be a result of collectively identifying ourselves as different from others. If we are X and they are Y, then oh, that is a relief because now I know who I am.

As George Orwell wrote, this is "the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects," and something that I believe is done instinctively by extremists and others who don't have what is needed to create their own beliefs.

At it's core, this mindset of segregation and separation tips 17th century philosopher René Descartes celebrated phrase "I think, therefore I am" on it's head.



Sunday, June 29, 2014

Video: The 500 year-old voice




 

When French songwriter/musician Luc Arbogast sings it is as if you are listening to a voice from Europe's Middle Ages.

This video is of "Sefardic Song."

 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Interview on ExpatsBlog.com

  



Where are you originally from?
Australia.

In which country and city are you living now?
Spain.

How long have you lived in Spain and how long are you planning to stay?
8 years and planning to stay another 5 years at least [but probably longer.]

Why did you move to Spain and what do you do?
Many reasons, but largely because Europe (especially Spain) has the kind of history, culture and lifestyle that is one of the best in the world. I taught English and History at two international schools here part-time for a few years and also finished my first book, The Remade Parent. Now I'm working on a travel book about Spain while being a columnist and reviewer for Catalonia Today magazine...on top of teaching local adults English in company mainly.

Did you bring family with you?
Yes, my wife and son have always lived with me. I couldn't have it any other way.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Difficult at times. Sometimes it feels like (even after 8 years here) that the transition is still continuing but I'd lived in Japan for 3 years (and England for 2 years) before coming to Spain so it was not so hard.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
No, it wasn't easy and still isn't. I don't socialise much with expats either though.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The food and wine is exceptional and the weather is good for most of the year so it is great for outdoor types. Apart from Barcelona, the regions are wonderful if you have the time to visit them. I think Toledo is incredible, as is Granada too, but there are real gems like Asturias or Galicia which are often neglected by visitors.

What do you enjoy most about living in Spain?
The sun, the seafood, the people I work with (usually!) and the family-friendly nature of public life. I love the tranquility of the little town we live in but Barcelona never fails to stimulate the senses and feed my curiosity.

How does the cost of living in Spain compare to home?
Home is here in Spain but compared to Australia food and drink is much cheaper though other costs are often higher.

Unless you have independent wealth or are very lucky (or well-conected) you'll need some savings to live on at times.

What negatives, if any, are there to living in Spain?
Of course there are negatives such as cultural clashes and some people prejudging you but the positives (still) outweigh the negatives for me.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Spain, what would it be?
Experience as much of the local culture as you can...as long as it interests you.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Finances and dealing with the many layers of bureaucracy when you want to do even quite basic things related to housing, business or employment.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
As I say, home is here, but I'm sure that there would be plenty of reverse culture shock in going back to Australia one day, even just visting there for short periods I've noticed that.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Travel widely and see more than just the little area you live in.
  2. Learn to be functional in a relevant local language.
  3. Be prepared to earn less than you probably do already.
  4. Make sure that if you have kids that they have regular social and/or educational opportunities with local children (not just with other expats.)
  5. Try to not rely only on expats for your social life.


Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
It's a blog on social/public issues and cultural life in Catalonia, Spain and wider Europe.

I started it in 2009 and it now brings visitors from all around the world, which is great.

- See more at: http://www.expatsblog.com/articles/1797/australian-expat-living-in-spain-expat-interview-with-brett#sthash.43EHX2eu.dpuf


Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Gay cure" author's books for sale in Spain


"Some of the largest booksellers in Spain – Amazon, El Corte Inglés and La Casa del Libro – have started selling a dangerous book that teaches parents to "fix" their gay kids. 



 The author – an American doctor famous for promoting "gay cure" therapies globally – is in Spain for the launch right now.

He's spreading dangerous "treatments" that could push so many LGBT young people to self-destructive behaviour and even suicide.


Both national stores have policies that prohibit products promoting discrimination. Sign [this petition] now to ask Amazon, El Corte Inglés and La Casa del Libro to take off their shelves any harmful books that try to "cure" people of being gay. 

Together we can save thousands of lives and send a strong message to anti-gay groups who are trying to impose "gay cures" in Spain.

(Campaign held in partnership with Spanish organization COLEGAS.")

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"The way we are" - My latest article in the 10th Anniversary edition of Catalonia Today

I was a reader of Catalonia Today before I was a writer for Catalonia Today. 

My first memory of it (at that time published as a weekly newspaper) was being impressed by (now Editor) Marcela Topor's wonderful interview with the Catalan novelist Vicenç Pagès Jordà in an edition from October 2006. 

"Bad readers make incomplete citizens" was the title of the article and I kept it filed away. I also continued archiving all the editions when my own work began to be published. 

Last week, at random, I pulled out a copy and, as it it turned out, this one from November 2008 was the final weekly edition before the newspaper became a monthly magazine. 

In it I had an article about Barcelona teenagers addictions to mobile phones (which is maybe even more timely today) but it is the content of the other pieces in this thirty two page publication that really impresses me still. 

Catalonia Today then had such a great variety of voices, news stories and current information. In that particular issue a reader could open up the paper and be greeted with 'Long Term Resident' Matthew Tree railing against Franco or caressed with a softer story about the comeback of local Catalan donkeys (and here the focus was the beast of burden, not any political asses.)

Flicking through "The Week" section, anyone with decent English could learn about the situation of homeless people here or they might also read an update on the saga of Judge Garzon and his efforts to allow the opening up of mass graves from the Civil war times. 

Equally, this issue also gave the opportunity to get well-informed about pollution and Co2 emissions in the Tarragona region or to try and understand the reasons for 30,000 Valencians taking to the streets over the use of English in schools there. A special double-page report by Gabe Abeyta Canepa delved into the world of the Mormon church in this part of the world and detailed the work of the 132 missionaries who walk their shiny black shoes across Barcelona's streets.

Towards the back of the newspaper in the Review section Joseph Wilson did some fine work in the arts, culture and language areas. Apart from the original interviews also there, I was always struck by the page which gave a round-up of the fairs, festivals and other events across the whole of Catalonia. 

This made an impact on me because it showed that there was life (and even cultural life) outside Barcelona - a fact that is largely overlooked by both visitors and English language media. Catalonia Today was, and still is, the only print publication that routinely acknowledges the existence of a wider Catalonia outside the capital. It does this in a magazine that you can touch. 

It was the first Catalan newspaper in English and I am proud to be a regular part of it. Catalonia Today deserves at least another ten years,...if not more.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review of "Between Two Fires" by David Baird

This book is exactly the kind of thing you would hope to find when you are aimlessly looking through the shelves in that slowly dying place called a bookshop.


Focusing mainly on the area around his adopted home town of Frigiliana, David Baird has used immaculate research to write in compelling detail about the "people of the sierra" - those who took to the mountains, some to escape, some because they had little choice and some because they had strong political opinions that could then only be expressed in a way that led them to be tagged by Franco's cronies as "bandits."


Here, we find a Spain that is almost impossible to recognise in the modern version of this country. As Baird points out, at the start of the 20th century the average person there lived not much longer than 30 years. 

It was an almost feudal land where even subsistence farming was only for the lucky ones. There was no public hospitals or public transport and mules and donkeys were the only way of getting any distance without walking in bare feet or simple shoes. 

It was a time of smugglers, travelling repairmen, mass illiteracy and child labour (often starting at 6 years of age.) Progress took the form of a single 30 watt bulb being installed in a house. After Franco's victory this part of the country also became the land of night-time curfews where anyone found in the streets after dark was automatically arrested.


It is unsurprising then that there was a significant level of support for the men who fought against authority. While some townspeople were kidnapped for ransom by the rebels it was the civil guard who were more hated but both sides were feared, and for good reason. 

To help the guerrillas, such as providing them food or clothes, was enough to be thrown in prison but to not help them at times meant to the outlaws that you were collaborating with their enemy and could then be a target for recriminations. It is in this sense that ordinary people were caught "between two fires."


Apart from the clarity of Baird's writing and his even-handed approach (which is a relatively rare thing in the highly-politicised arena of Spanish history) half of the book is given over to those who were intimately involved in the events of the time to simply tell their own versions. Their first-hand accounts are vivid, illuminating and often poignant.


In short, this book plays a crucial part in making sure that this war is not a forgotten one, at least to English language readers. 

[This review was also published at Good Reads and Amazon books.] 

Friday, May 30, 2014

"One of every 10 euros spent on healthcare in the EU is for treating depression"

Here is another logical consequence of recent economic and political decisions...

"The increase in cases of depression in recent years is caused by the economic crisis and the associated problems of unemployment, among others..."

Source (in Castellano) here.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Jewish community to file complaint after anti-Semitic tweets posted from Spain"

"The Jewish community in...Catalonia has taken action over anti-Semitic messages posted on social networking sites after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid to win the Euroleague title on Sunday.

After the game in Tel Aviv was over, nearly 18,000 offensive messages appeared on Twitter, according to Jewish associations, which have announced they are planning to file a complaint with the state attorney on Tuesday. According to sources from the Jewish community, the complaint will include tweets from five users of the micro-blogging site – along with their full names – which, the complainants will argue, constitute incitement of hatred against Jews."

Read more from El Pais [in English] here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Barcelona launch of my new non-fiction book, "The Remade Parent"

I invite you to come along and join us at the Aunzcat Soc space at C/- Pau Claris 106 Barcelona at 6pm on Friday, June 13, 2014.

We will be launching my new non-fiction book "The Remade Parent."

Friday, May 9, 2014

"Sahara sands and other's lands" - My latest article for Catalonia Today

Fine, red-brown dust covered every flat surface across Europe and the south of the UK just four weeks ago. 

If it was ever needed, it gave the strongest physical evidence that nature does not respect borders as well as telling our eyes, noses and throats that continents can exchange things through the air as easily as we can go on our holiday flights.

Apart from local pollution and pollen, the major source of this all-encompasing powder was North Africa's Sahara desert. Powerful wind storms there whipped up the particles making them airborne well into the north where they were brought down by light rain. 

Personally, I like the idea that someone living in Catalunya (or even London) can be affected by natural forces from a desert that we have usually thought of as being "a long way" to the south. (I'm often reminded how close it really is by the Arabic traffic sign on the autopista near El Papiol.) 

This desert, like the others I have visited in the USA and Australia, is both enchanting and beguiling. 

The apparent emptiness, the sheer width of the open space, the calming shimmer of the sand, the soft curves of the dunes, the barren beauty of the raw plains and the friendly proximity of the stars in your face at night, and (if you are lucky) all from the back of a placid, gentle-paced camel with extra long eyelashes. 

To me, the desert is infinitely more preferable than trying to look at the irritatingly ceasless, repetitive and ultimately moronic monotony of the ocean, which for all it's supposed romance and admittedly great bounties, is to me just something that makes me seasick.



But this recent weather phenomenon, including the reporting of it, has another aspect to it. 

Many of us are at least subconsciously pleased that it has come from outside where we live or have grown up. It is easy, convenient, mentally lazy, to categorise something that has created a minor health concern like asthma as a problem caused by an "oustide" influence or created by an "external" source. 

We can, without even vaguely realising it, make a casual association with other "African problems" like immigration/refugees/hunger/starvation/poverty and this allows us to wash our hands of any possible moral responsibility simply because it was not "us" who made it so. 

We can quietly form the idea that it is those from outside our own homelands who bring in trouble/disease/political extremism/desperation or even "false" religion and this means that we have logically gone most of the way to dismissing the needs of negros with "other continent" problems. 

And we have barely exercised a brain cell in the process. 

Because of the luxury of viewing Africans as others, and not "one of of us" we also set up a chain of thought (or is it more like a lack of thought?) that links "their" difficulties as somehow removed from "our" difficulties. 

This permits a kind of unconscious, indifferent racism. By creating the idea of "us" we create the idea of "them." Even the word "foreign" is objectionable to me. 

A foreigner therefore, is an "outsider," Auslander in German or an extranjero (which has the suggestion of someone being "extraneous," to an English-language ear, meaning: " irrrelevant/not forming an essential or vital part.)



So, weather can reach out over frontiers. When any person does the same we should be complelled to consider the Latin writer Terentius' words from around 160 BC. He stated that " I am a human being, so nothing human is foreign to me." 

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, May 2014.]